Monday, December 22, 2008

I Can Put it All on my Credit Card


Credit Card (Flobots "Handlebars" parody) from kennybloggerly on Vimeo.

For the holidays, why not enjoy a catchy song parody with a side of heavy-handed satire?

Laugh, then think, then cringe at my rapping/singing.

If you're not familiar with the original song, you can check it out here or here, which ought to greatly enrich your appreciation of our version.



YouTube, MySpace, DailyMotion, Veoh, Crackle and Vimeo

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Diploma


Hey look! I finally got my diploma!

It's a long story but even though I graduated from USC two years ago, there was a hold on my diploma. Basically, they said I didn't go to a required student loan exit interview. I was sure that I had gone, so I figured it was just a misunderstanding and all I would have to do was call them and straighten it out. In fact, I figured it would be so simple that I didn't bother doing it for six or seven months.

Finally, I did call and I was told that I had missed some other exit interview, which was online. They gave me a web address but the online exit interview failed to work for some reason. I chalked it up to the site not being Mac compatible (I had just switched) and figured I would do it later on my old PC. However, my life at that point was busy and exciting and I never got around to it and eventually lost the website. Calling to get it again was never a priority.

Recently I've been thinking I should probably get around to getting that diploma, and I fortuitously discovered the original letter USC sent me about the hold, thus saving me the hassle of looking up the necessary phone numbers. At this point, the hold was especially asinine since I've long since paid off the small Federal Perkins loan that the exit interview pertained to. This fact meant nothing to the USC workers I spoke to, and I was again referred to the exit interview site.

However, you can't take the exit interview online without calling the ECSI for your school code, an annoying extra step that reminded me why I waited so long to deal with this. When I called the ECSI and asked for my school code, they looked up my records and, slightly confused, told me, that I was already paid up and they couldn't generate an exit interview for me. Fortunately, what they could do was call the school and remove the hold.

So if you want to get out of doing your exit interviews, all you have to do is wait a couple years and pay off your loan. And that's the boring story of how I beat the system.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Flashback: Aborted China Diary, 2002

Stephanie and I are sifting through old papers, looking for stuff to throw away. The air is thick with the dust we've stirred up and we are sneezing profusely, burning through a box of tissues as our sinuses run rampant.

I discovered that on my trip to China several years ago, I had attempted to keep a journal. It didn't last. Here's what I had.


Wednesday, 6/5/02

7:08

We're weaving through Beijing and I don't know which way is up. You can't tell how big the city is because you can't see more than a half mile through the fog. We could be going back and forth and I wouldn't know it. I wish I knew Chinese characters better. I wish I had my textbook. I wish I had my tape recorder.*

People walk in the streets and ride bikes out into lanes totally without regard.

Later

The hotel toilet seat says: "No leaning backward." As if you'd want to just relax by reclining against the underside of a toilet lid.

It's nicer at night because you can't see the smog, just the colorful glow of brightly-lit signs in the darkness.

We went through some malls near the hotel and Tammy proposed we go to drink so we each had a beer and I had some probably undercooked lamb kabobs. This was with the guy chaperoning us, whose friend and brother showed up to hang out too. There's no drinking age here, which is sensible, especially since everyone drives like they're drunk anyway.

6/6/02

Morning TV: A horrible ad whose extensive use of questionably accurate computer graphics tries to convince people to take a pill that will grow their bones.**


*I think at the time I was trying to do that writer thing you see in movies where they narrate into a tape recorder instead of writing things down. It always seemed like it would be easier, but the problem is that you feel really self-conscious when you actually do it, and then you have to transcribe it all later anyway.

**Chinese people are desperate to be taller. This pill promised to make them taller by stretching their bones. A computer animated simulation showed how your leg bones would grow longer if you took the pill. It looked like it would be really painful if it were actually real.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Marty McFly Nukes the Fridge


Just stumbled upon the Cracked.com list 7 Terrible Early Versions of Great Movies, which includes a link to the fascinating first draft of Back to the Future.

I've read a weird early Back to the Future draft before -- it opened with Marty getting out of detention by sticking a match to the ceiling with gum and then lighting it with his mirrored sunglasses to set off a fire alarm -- but this one is even earlier, and weirder. I'd read about it before, in my Back to the Future Official Book of the Complete Movie Trilogy, and I'm pretty sure they mention it on the DVD, but this was my first chance to read it. As a writer, it's pretty instructive -- there's all kinds of stuff that is very clunky but was later made elegant.

As Cracked points out, this version features Marty as a video pirate, which I'd heard about -- not surprisingly, studios balked at having a hero who is a video pirate. After all, it's one thing for movies to set a bad example when it comes to violence and sex, but when it comes to something serious, you can't be too careful. Also in this version, Marty helps discover that Coca-Cola is the secret ingredient to making magical inventions work (which must have seemed like a cute idea but is way too stupid for the screen) and the future at the end of the movie is a retro-futuristic paradise that runs on Coke.

Cracked also notes that the specter of atomic war looms heavily over this draft, the better to foreshadow a climax in which, in lieu of harnessing lightning, Marty and Prof. Brown sneak onto an A-bomb test site to power the trip back to the future. There is no Delorean, so this involves Marty climbing into a refrigerator as the time machine activates to protect him from the blast.

(In the BTTF book, Bob Gale or Bob Zemeckis explains that, besides the A-bomb sequence being too expensive, this was changed because they were worried about kids trapping themselves in refrigerators. I guess that was a big problem in the '80s? There was even a special episode of Punky Brewster about it, where Margo makes the mistake of playing hide-and-seek in an abandoned fridge and can't get out. So did we somehow solve this child-danger crisis, or did we just get distracted by worrying about pedophiles?)

The surprising thing about reading this sequence now is how much it sounds exactly like the A-bomb test scene in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Too Many Words to Finish Writing This. I guess all that bullshit about fully stocked, furnished towns complete with electricity and food in the fridge was true after all -- the BTTF script explains how the government really wanted to test how everything responded to a nuclear explosion, and make the most of their limited above-ground detonations. They must have been disappointed when every object reacted in pretty much the same way: by getting completely incinerated.

EXT. TRACT HOUSE – MARTY

Marty is walking around in front of the house, looking it over. He goes inside.

INT. TRACT HOUSE – MARTY

Amazingly enough, it looks like a model home---there is furniture, magazines on the tables, a TV, a radio.

In the dining room, more MANNEQUINS are seated at the table, which is set with full place settings. Marty wanders through the house, chuckling at the idiocy of it all.

MARTY

goes into the kitchen and has a look around. There is a Frigidaire refrigerator---Marty opens it and discovers it is well stocked with food, including meat, cheese, milk, eggs, Coke, fruit and vegetables. Marty takes an apple, has a bite, and returns to the living room.

INT. LIVING ROOM

Marty turns on the TV. Snow. He switches channels and finally tunes in a picture---the “Howdy Doody” Show. Marty watches Clarabell dancing around and shakes his head.

MARTY: The “fabulous fifties.”


So Marty explores an eerie, fake town, goes inside a house, checks the fridge, watches Howdy Doody on TV, then jumps into a fridge just in time to escape the atomic explosion. Yes, he travels through time instead of being hurled several miles, which makes this farfetched script still more believable than Indy's version. But at one point, it looks like the time machine might not work, so Professor Brown floats the idea of getting in the lead-lined refrigerator and hoping for the best -- Indy's plan exactly. Also, apparently refrigerators filled with lead? Also a thing.

EXT. PROF. BROWN’S VANTAGE POINT

A distraught Professor Brown calls instructions into his walkie-talkie.

PROF. BROWN: Marty, it's over. Do you understand? It's over. Now I want you to get in the refrig---the time chamber, and we'll just pray that the lead lining---

INTERCUT WITH MARTY, IN THE GARAGE

Marty interrupts with an idea.

MARTY: The refrigerator! Hang on, Professor!

Marty runs back into the house.

Professor Brown doesn’t know what to think.

INT. HOUSE – KITCHEN

Marty runs to the refrigerator and opens it. Sure enough, there are several bottles of Coke here! Marty is elated!

MARTY (into walkie-talkie): Don't worry about a thing! There's plenty of formula in the refrigerator!


The similarity is pretty impressive, and maybe it's just that once you go to a '50s test site town, there's only one place to go, and that's a fridge. But maybe, just maybe, Steven Spielberg, who produced Back to the Future and championed the script in order to get it made, remembered this scene and always wanted to make it? Then, when Crystal Skull came along, he thought "Now's my chance!" and threw the idea back into the mix.

I think the answer is clearly yes.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

How Not to Eat Right - Follow Up

Kelley: If you are to continue your newly found interest in fast food, you owe it to yourself to go down to the South Bay Galleria and sample a Chick-fil-a sandwich.

I've heard from a couple of sources (one of which was possibly you, one of which was Aziz Ansari's blog) that the Southern Style Chicken Sandwich is very much like a Chick-fil-A sandwich. So maybe they deserve the credit for that minimalist masterpiece.


Steve:
A couple of years ago, I decided to try out Burger King, and went to their website to find the nearest store. After 15 minutes of first trying to find the store locater and then trying to get it to work, I still had no idea where the nearest BK was. Instead, I got to wait 90 seconds for their animation to load, endure auto-playing audio, completely pointless spinning graphics, and relentless pop-ups demanding I play the stupid games they had wasted their money on.


Dude, that is way more effort than anyone should ever expend to find a Burger King. Actually, even typing a web address is more effort than anyone should ever expend to find a Burger King.

Steve: What are your thoughts on Carl's $6 burgers?

I haven't sampled one lately. I had one years ago when they introduced them and I was underwhelmed. There was more meat, but it still tasted like fast-food meat, so my verdict was why eat the bigger, less healthy version of something if it doesn't actually taste any better. But then again, that was back when my standards were higher.

By the way, re: the Burger King Steakhouse Mushroom Swiss catastrophe -- I'm not alone. I urge you to follow the link for a visual aid that will show you what I was talking about. I would have photographed the burger myself but I had left my cell phone in the car.

How Not to Eat Right

For many years I ate very little fast food, mainly out of -- well, out of good taste, I guess. Which is not to say that I ate healthily, just that I got my junk food from places besides big fast food chains -- which is how I'm defining fast food here.

Lately, though, I frequently find myself requiring a quick, cheap meal from a place where I don't have to get out of my car. For many years after I first judged myself to be a burger connoisseur, I savagely hated McDonald's. For I time, I even preferred Burger King, based on the fact that they at least offered tomatoes in their flagship burger.

I started to be lured back to McDonald's by their cheap and enormous iced coffees, which turned out to be surprisingly decent. And after laughing at the commercials where people gushed over the juicy new Southern Style Chicken sandwich, I felt the urge to try it just to see how short it fell.

Then, something unexpected: the sandwich turned out to be good! It's the simplest thing, a piece of fried chicken on a bun with a couple of paltry slices of pickle. Not even any sauce. But the chicken was juicy, and the spices were tasty, and the pickle set things off just right.

It was a revelation. For the first time, the genius of McDonald's snapped into focus, and I started to admire it. Their food scientists have calculated the bare minimum number of elements required to come together and form a satisfying taste. There's a certain elegance to the minimalism. Of course, this is all providing that the materials themselves are fresh enough not to disgust you the moment they meet your mouth, but McDonald's has made an effort to clean up and revamp their restaurants in the past couple of years, and more often than not these days, the food is up to the task.

I've even become more susceptible to advertisements. A billboard dangled a picture of a Big Mac before me, and I thought, maybe I should give the Big Mac another try, and I got one, and it was inexplicably delicious. Not a great burger, but somehow it was exactly what it was supposed to be -- no more, no less, and completely distinctive.

I'm always intrigued when fast-food chains introduce premium level burgers (the first of which was Carl's Jr.'s vaunted Six Dollar Burger). You know they'll never live up to a fancy burger at a nice restaurant, but like lottery tickets, the lure of possibility is so strong that I always want to try them at least once.

Jack in the Box - Sirloin Cheeseburger

I go to Jack in the Box a lot because they have a pretty rich selection and it is the closest fast food chain to my workplace. There are lot of good chicken options, including the Fajita Pita sandwich if you're trying to not be too unhealthy, and the Sourdough Club or the Ciabatta sandwich if you're willing to compromise a bit (though you have to specially request grilled chicken on the Ciabatta sandwich these days).

I'd seen Jack boasting about his Sirloin burgers as his staff jeered childishly at competitors Angus meat, but I had never bought one before. One day I was feeling glum and decided to treat myself. For some people that means piling on to their credit card debt with something that is actually nice, but for me it apparently means allowing myself to buy a big burger at a fast-food chain.

The Sirloin Cheeseburger was great! JITB offers you a choice of onions (red or white) and cheese (American, swiss or cheddar). You get a good solid burger on a fresh bun with produce that is not at all depressing to look at or taste. The meat is tender and has flavor that doesn't feel completely grafted on with condiments after the fact. For fast food, I could ask for nothing more.

McDonald's - Angus Chipotle BBQ Cheeseburger

My first experience with McDonald's Angus burger was with the mushroom swiss option, and it was very disappointing. The mushroom and swiss was lackluster, it precluded the inclusion of any other produce, and the meat patty was large but flavorless except for the salt and pepper liberally sprinkled over it.

With the release of the Angus Chipotle BBQ option, I decided to give McDonald's another chance. I've now had this burger on two occasions. The first was consumed in a parking lot, sitting in my darkened car. There's a lot more going on in this burger, enough that judging the beef itself is more difficult. This time, though, it seemed passable, and the BBQ sauce, cheese, bacon and other stuff carried the day. The burger was surprisingly good. The second time I had one, I sat in the restaurant where I could clearly see the burger on my tray. It still tasted good, but the way the beef patty failed to fill out the bun made a poor visual impression.

Burger King - Steakhouse Mushroom Swiss Burger

I don't know what the hell is going on at Burger King these days. McDonald's is raising their game like crazy, and the King is apparently pouring his money into second rate marketing guys who slave away to create cute little quips to print on their packaging. Jack in the Box does a bit of this, but Jack has been effectively established as a character with a distinctive attitude, and so any smartass labeling comes from a recognizable brand identity. The creepy smiling King is a non-sequitur enigma, and so, too, are Burger King's attempts at cleverness, which are all over the map.

The French fry sleeve is hence labeled a "Frypod," and includes a notice near the bottom that "If you can read this, I'm not in your cupholder." Pre-checked boxes along the side imply that the food within has been confirmed to be Fresh, Hot, and Delicious. This touch comes off as a cruel slap in the face when the food itself is unmistakably hours-old, cold and mediocre. In the midst of filthy, dilapidated restaurants bearing the pink and turquoise decor of 1993 gone to ruin, soda machines bear cutesy recipes for mixing different sodas together. The burger wrapper urges you to take a moment to contemplate your burger before eating it, because it's better that way. Unfortunately, that is the worst advice you could possibly give someone who is about to consume a fast food burger. On the contrary, you should start eating immediately -- don't take even a moment to process the chasm between the delicious picture on the menu and the embarrassment on your tray. Even the perfectly decent Angus Chipotle BBQ burger suffers if you look at too long. Substitute a sandwich from Burger King, and that moment of anticipatory contemplation threatens to hurl you headlong into a depressive spiral, leaving you desperately wondering just how your life has come to this.

For their Steakhouse Burger, Burger King has chosen not to emulate its competitors thicker patties, but rather, to spread the meat around. It aims to impress not with thickness but diameter. To be sure, the patty more than fills out the bun. Unfortunately, it's rubbery and tastes only vaguely of beef. Chewing it is not unlike chewing some tofu-based meat substitute, and the flavor is equally authentic. The fried onion bits, which were what had intrigued me most about the sandwich, were soggy and lifeless. Also, I should know better than to get the mushroom-swiss option at a fast food chain, because that is apparently something no one can do right.

I left feeling thoroughly disgusted with myself. My previous encounter with Burger King, a disastrous encounter with a value-priced chicken sandwich, had kept me away for a good long while, but apparently had not taught me a clear enough lesson.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Wicker Men: The Death of a Hollywood Industry

In our new short, learn the untold history of how the transition to sound cinema nearly destroyed the wicker furniture industry.


Watch Wicker: The Best Thing Ever in Funny Videos  |  View More Free Videos Online at Veoh.com

In case the Veoh player disagrees with your computer, you can also watch it at:

YouTube, MySpace, DailyMotion and Veoh

Monday, December 01, 2008

Emergency Water Emergency

Here's a fun thought puzzle activity. Let's do it together!

Let's say you had a big 2.5 gallon water jug, the kind you can keep perched on the shelf of your fridge with a pull-out spout for dispensing water. Let's say you kept it in a cabinet as your "emergency water supply" that you're supposed to have in case of earthquakes or whatever. Let's say one day you discover that the whole jug is practically empty and 2.5 gallons of water have gradually leaked out of it over an indeterminate number of months. Let's say you now want to make sure the mold on the water-damaged cabinet shelf is dead and will not continue to grow all over whatever you put back inside that cabinet. What might you do to clean this up?

Monday, November 24, 2008

Hard Bargains

I need to get a new external hard drive for video editing purposes. I've never actually done the research for this before -- instead I just used the external drives we already had, and they turned out to work fine. Now I'm actually looking around and reading reviews online. It seemed like a lot of people had data-loss problems with Maxtor drives, which is the brand that Costco is stocking now, so I thought I would stick with Western Digital, which is the brand of our current external drives. The more research I do, though, the more I find reviews warning of WD drives failing as well. Maybe it's just the people whose drives fail who are more likely to write reviews. Does anyone have a hard drive brand that they trust and would recommend?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

SNL: Nicholas Fehn

I really like this Fred Armisen character.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Vlog Star #12: Good News, Manager

And here, the first season of Vlog Star comes to an end. Hope you enjoyed it. If you have any feedback or thoughts on the series so far I'd love to hear it.


Good News, Manager | Vlog Star #12 from kennybloggerly on Vimeo.

Um, sorry about the sound. I knew there would be street noise but it's a bit worse than I'd expected. But I think the dialogue is still intelligible. Hope you'll agree.

I think the street noise is actually dampened in the YouTube version.

YouTube, MySpace, DailyMotion and Veoh

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Vlog Star #11: Hit Me With Your Best Shot

We've reached the penultimate episode of Vlog Star season one. Savor it while you still can.


Hit Me With Your Best Shot | Vlog Star #11 from kennybloggerly on Vimeo.

YouTube, MySpace, DailyMotion and Veoh

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Vlog Star #10: Alexa's Vlog

Okay, here it is.


Alexa's Vlog | Vlog Star #10 from kennybloggerly on Vimeo.

In case Vimeo does not play well or you prefer a different video player:

YouTube, MySpace, DailyMotion, Veoh and Crackle

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Next Episode Coming Soon

I'm sure you're all on pins and needles waiting for the next episode of Vlog Star, but it's been a busy week so I don't have it ready yet. Expect it sometime later this week.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Vlog Star #9: Professor YouTube



Watch the rest of the Professor YouTube video here, or the rest of the Numa Numa video here.

YouTube, DailyMotion, Veoh and Crackle

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

62% More So-Called "Laughs"



I guess the packaging designer didn't think the movie was very funny. How else to explain the sarcastic quote marks? I've never seen such a self-deprecating DVD cover. Have a little pride, guys. At least act like you're trying to sell this.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Fred's Map



When Hulu was new, I wanted to play with embedding clips and never got around to it. You'll excuse me if I overdo it a little bit now that I've started.

I do like this clip, though.

30 Rock

The first episode of 30 Rock's long awaited third season is up a week early on Hulu:



The episode revisits one of the show's (and, apparently, Tina Fey's) running themes, that of Liz Lemon's single-woman baby fever. It's a solid entry and a nice starting point, but not as funny as the many series highs. The Emmy-winning season 2 finale "Cooter" is an excellent (and funnier) episode still available on Hulu.

As long as I'm finally posting Hulu clips, here's one from Episode 210, one of my favorites from last season. Here, Liz becomes anxious when she doesn't hear back from the board of an apartment building she's interested in:



I wish I could also post the bizarre and wonderful musical number from the end of 210, but that clip isn't available and the full episodes don't go back that far.

And, of course, here is Alec Baldwin's tour-de-force from another favorite episode, "Rosemary's Baby."

Saturday, October 11, 2008

A Glowing Recommendation

Joong's Blog:

I saw a jerk..exactly a funny guy on the Internet. He tries to be looked like a jerk. He is the host of the Kenny Bloggerly’s Internet Life. He says he wants to show us what he saw on the Internet, and few clicks, then the show is over. This is it. It’s like a joke style of Napoleon Dynamite.

Just like Kenny, I want to show you what I saw on the Internet. This is Kenny Bloggerly’s Internet Life.

Open your mind, and watch it.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Vlog Star #6: A Gift for Max

Mike and Kenny fans will be delighted to note that we have at last come to another Max episode.


Watch A Gift for Max | Vlog Star #6 in Funny Videos  |  View More Free Videos Online at Veoh.com

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Vlog Star #4: Not Crying


Online Videos by Veoh.com

You might think it hypocritical to create a series that makes fun of a character for failing to produce successful internet videos when one's own videos, that series included, do not exactly set cyberspace afire. On the contrary! It is that very fact that allows me to fully sympathize with the character. I understand his struggle. No one can accuse me of not writing what I know.

Indeed, as we were filming one scene, David directed me, "You have to say it like someone who's had a hit video. You're saying it like someone who's never had a hit video. You're saying it like yourself." Indeed, Nate is basically me, except that his videos used to be successful, and he is seven years younger. (I like to think I can still get away with playing 21 by TV standards -- and internet standards ought to be even more lenient, right?) If I were to catalog all the similarities between myself and Nate, the show would just make you sad, if it doesn't already. For example, we also look and dress quite similarly.

This episode was written to address a question I got in the script stage, about why Alexa would continue to be friends with Nate. Hopefully it answers that question, or at least hints at the answer. Ironically, it also brings Nate to such heights of jackassery that it raises the question all over again.

Update: I decided that one of my last minute editing tweaks kinda screwed up the timing of one of the lines, so I uploaded a new version. That's why the video was out for a while. I apologize profusely for any panic I may have triggered.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Meme, Myself and AFI

I never do this, but Steve decided to start a meme where you categorize the AFI top 100 movie list according to your own tastes. I enjoy exercises in asserting subjective taste over critical consensus, so I couldn't resist. Partly I was just curious what my list would look like, so here it is. I have a hard time ranking any of these movies as "terrible." If they're on this list, they probably have some qualities to recommend them, so I probably enjoyed them at least a little. The stuff under "Not So Good" tends to be stuff that bored me, or turned out to be forgettable, or a let down, or for whatever reason just didn't click with me.

I'm pretty comfortable with being a LOTR hater, though.

GREAT
10 Singin' in the Rain 1952
12 Sunset Boulevard 1950
18 Psycho 1960
20 One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest 1975
22 2001: A Space Odyssey 1968
26 Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb 1964
28 Apocalypse Now 1979
31 Annie Hall 1977
40 North by Northwest 1959
42 Rear Window 1954
50 Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid 1969
55 The Sound of Music 1965
66 Network 1976
67 The Manchurian Candidate 1962
74 The Gold Rush 1925
85 Duck Soup 1933
93 The Apartment 1960
18. The General (1927)
99. Toy Story (1995)

PRETTY GOOD
1 Citizen Kane 1941
2 Casablanca 1942
3 The Godfather 1972
6 The Wizard of Oz 1939
7 The Graduate 1967
8 On the Waterfront 1954
9 Schindler's List 1993
13 The Bridge on the River Kwai 1957
14 Some Like It Hot 1959
15 Star Wars 1977
17 The African Queen 1951
19 Chinatown 1974
23 The Maltese Falcon 1941
29 Mr. Smith Goes to Washington 1939
32 The Godfather Part II 1974
34 To Kill a Mockingbird 1962
35 It Happened One Night 1934
36 Midnight Cowboy 1969
38 Double Indemnity 1944
46 A Clockwork Orange 1971
49 Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs 1937
57 The Third Man 1949
58 Fantasia 1940
59 Rebel Without a Cause 1955
60 Raiders of the Lost Ark 1981
61 Vertigo 1958
62 Tootsie 1982
71 Forrest Gump 1994
76 City Lights 1931
81 Modern Times 1936
87 Frankenstein 1931
92 A Place in the Sun 1951
97 Bringing Up Baby 1938
71. Saving Private Ryan (1998)
83. Titanic (1997)
89. The Sixth Sense (1999)
72. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

NOT SO GOOD
4 Gone with the Wind 1939
24 Raging Bull 1980
27 Bonnie and Clyde 1967
44 The Birth of a Nation 1915
45 A Streetcar Named Desire 1951
47 Taxi Driver 1976
51 The Philadelphia Story 1940
52 From Here to Eternity 1953
64 Close Encounters of the Third Kind 1977
70 The French Connection 1971
77 American Graffiti 1973
78 Rocky 1976
84 Fargo 1996
90 The Jazz Singer 1927
95 Pulp Fiction 1994
96 The Searchers 1956
61. Sullivan's Travels (1941)
77. All the President's Men (1976)
97. Blade Runner (1982)

TERRIBLE
25 E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial 1982
50. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Vlog Star #3: The Genius


Online Videos by Veoh.com

To answer your question, yes, this series is autobiographical.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Allison Wonderland


Many of you know I am a fan of John Allison's webcomic Scary Go Round, though I have been unable to convince many others of its charms. Something else I enjoy about John Allison is his gift for droll self-deprecation. He can be mercilessly negative about himself without making you feel like it's tiresome whining (or, since he's British, "whinging"). This comes across in his blog, but it's also on display in a pair of recent interviews, both of which have very amusing moments.

I like how his answers are implicitly mocking the interviewer here:

Will: First off, tell us about Scary Go Round. What’s it all about?

John Allison: Aren’t you meant to write two paragraphs of purple prose that answer this question before I come into the room? Scary Go Round is a series of stories about a group of characters. It’s a bit like the news in that way, except that the news is factual but Scary Go Round is made up. People have adventures, which sometimes end in an ambiguous way, leading to further stories at a later point. The characters talk to each other, there’s some dialogue, I put the words in balloons so they don’t get all jumbled up with the pictures. I try to keep things light and fun, but occasionally there’s a swear word or what the British Board of Film Certification might term “mild peril”. I’ve not answered your question very well, have I?

Will: You go through characters fairly frequently, bumping them off, sending them to Wales or some such other terrible fate. Do you find it easy to decide who gets the chop and when, or is there some sort of system in place that dictates the lifespan of a character?

John Allison: Every character has a set number of appearances before I get rid of them, it’s the same for every character. And I add 1 to that number every time there is a message board post about that character, and 5 every time I get an email about them, and 10 every time I get a fan art picture of them. My mum keeps count, she’s retired now so she has lots of time... So I have a big chart on the wall with a picture of the character and their current score, and I eke out their appearances until the number runs down to one. I often have to get rid of characters I really like because they ran out of appearances. It’s awkward working to a system like this but you have to have structure, even in art.

Will: Tom Siddel of Gunnerkrigg Court decree that you must choose one person you know by name to be put to death. What did they ever do to you?

John Allison: This is a hard one. I guess I’d kill Tom Siddel of Gunnerkrigg Court, who brought it on himself. How do you like that, Tom? You didn’t expect that, did you? You thought you were so clever, and now someone is coming round to your house to kill you.

This one is equally insulting to the questioner, but also makes an important point.

Who do you think would win in a fight and why - Zombie, Pirate, or Ninja?

ALLISON: Given the desperate exhaustion of those three pop-cultural tropes, I can only imagine that a three-way fight between them would end with all three flat on their backs, struggling to lift a flaccid limb in anger.


The fact that Allison is willing to go there despite having just wrapped up a pirate-related story arc (and being no stranger to zombie stories either), I think his answer can be considered evidence of his self-deprecation as well.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

A Story of Misanthropy

Writing at Coffee Bean some time ago, I met a young man who seemed friendly at first, but went on to engage me in endless conversations. This happened several times, to the point where I considered abandoning that Coffee Bean location. His pointless talks squandered my time in increments up to and exceeding half-hours, during which I would nod politely as he asked me vague writing-related questions. I would respond with basic statements about story structure. He would enthusiastically agree and cite a barely-related example that would take us down yet another path I had no interest in exploring.

Today, at another Coffee Bean, I was again accosted by this young man. He greeted me cheerily and reminded me that we knew each other. "Oh yes," I thought. "I remember you. You're that guy I can't stand." Sadly, I think if he had been pleasant I probably would have forgotten him by now.

He talked at me for ten minutes or so, as I reluctantly held court on the importance of outlining a story, but it felt like twenty. He hovered over me, sipping his cup of water, while I quietly worried that he might spill some on my computer, but I pointedly did not offer him a seat. Occasionally he edged toward the seat across from me, even resting a hand on it, and I tried not to betray my sense of panic that he might sit down. I found myself staring at his stray nose hairs through most of the conversation, wondering how it was that certain hairs remained obediently within the nostril while a patch of others made a beeline for daylight as if partners in an escape plan. He seemed to have shaved his face more recently than his neck; the stubble on his cheeks and the front of his chin was short. The stubble on his neck, notably longer. To what end? Did he fear his chin lacked definition? It seemed okay to me.

Finally he said, "Well, good to see you." This was welcome in the sense that he was leaving, but unwelcome in the sense that he offered a handshake. As I extended my hand, I briefly spied a discoloration on his palm--can you get bruises there?--and when I shook his hand I felt swollen lumps, like he was wearing a glove with rocks inside. Afterwards, I brushed my hands on my jeans but couldn't get comfortable. There is an episode of Scrubs in which a germ is depicted as a green glow that passes from person to person. I felt the tingle of this green glow upon my palm until I finally surrendered to my OCD and went to the restroom to wash my hands.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Vlog Star #1: Messing With People in the Park

Meet viral video star Nate Klugman in the premiere episode of Vlog Star. Maybe it's not as good as the trailer, but then, nothing ever is.


Online Videos by Veoh.com

In a World Without a Voice...

Don LaFontaine, the premiere movie trailer voiceover guy, has died. This is terrible news, as every movie trailer to use a different voice always sounds cheap and second-rate. Who will save us from a world where even the trailers for summer blockbusters sound like trailers for indie flops going direct-to-DVD?

Thursday, August 28, 2008

New Template

It wasn't easy, but I've decided to change up the template for the blog and see how I like it. I still like the old design, but I've been posting mostly videos lately and they looked terrible because they never fit. I had many happy years with the old template but there's no sense clinging to it. I've customized this template with a color scheme some might call garish, in an homage intended to preserve the spirit of the old design.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Vlog Star Trailer

New web series starting next week:


Vlog Star - Trailer from kennybloggerly on Vimeo.

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Saturday, August 23, 2008

Offensive Dilbert



Offensive Dilbert

Re "Dilbert" (Business, Aug. 20):

There is nothing funny about two homeless men fighting over a fictitious $1 million from the local community. How dare we make fun of the homeless. Just think how a million dollars would actually benefit the community. This is not the first time your comic section has made fun of our homeless population.

Lynn Graves

Long Beach


I wish I could have seen her when she read the next one:



EDIT: I see my template doesn't work well with these embedded strips. You can click the strips to read the third panel.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Kenny Bloggerly's Internet Life, #23: PTSD

Can Kenny Bloggerly rebuild his shattered psyche?



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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Kenny Bloggerly's Internet Life, #22: ...and Death



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Kenny Bloggerly's Internet Life, #21: Help



The creepiest episode yet. I didn't post it partly because I wanted to see if people would seek it out at kennybloggerly.com. It looks like the answer is no.

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Thursday, August 07, 2008

Cosmopolitan

Cosmopolitan's perennial features on how to please men sexually have long been reliably laughable and a deserving target of ridicule, but the execution of this Onion piece is still amazingly pitch-perfect and hilarious. I especially love the researcher and the footage from their lab.


'Cosmopolitan' Institute Completes Decades-Long Study On How To Please Your Man

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Monday, August 04, 2008

Kenny Bloggerly's Internet Life, #19: Karen the Host



Karen takes control of Kenny Bloggerly's Internet Life.

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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

7-Hour Jury People

Sorry I haven't been providing any of my usual prose brilliance on the blog lately. I'd intended to pick up the blogging pace again, but there is only so much time available and when you're uploading and posting videos twice a week it tends to eat up that little bit of time you might spend tlogging (that's "text-blogging" for those of you who didn't realize I was just then coining a phrase).

Today I had jury duty again. It was not as eventful as my last jury service; this time I just sat in the main jury holding room and did not get called at all. No interviews, no jury selection, just a day of sitting and reading and hoping my name would not get called. And I was out in a day, so I lucked out.

This time I went to the Airport Court, which is near LAX and also has a pleasing rhyme to its name. The courthouse was dedicated in 1999 and was much more clean and modern than the courthouse I attended last time. Didn't get to see how this affected the actual courtrooms though. To enter, we were made to go through "airport style" security which means if you leave the building you have to take off your belt and empty your pockets to come in again. Waiting in line to enter in the morning, a paper sign notified employees and jurors alike of the entrance policy: "Everyone must line up at 8:00. JURY PEOPLE TOO." I like that the official term used by the courthouse is "jury people." In fact, I like the phrase so much, I think it should replace the overused "party people." As in, "What up, jury people, let me hear you make some noise! Yeah! Let's get this trial started!"

I also liked the sign that instructed, "TAKE OFF YOUR BELT. REMOVE YOUR BELT. PLACE YOUR BELT IN THE TRAY," because of the implied frustration with someone who might not be giving the sign his full attention.

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Kenny Bloggerly's Internet Life, #18: Karen the Fan

See more funny videos at Funny or Die


Vote Funny while you still can!

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Monday, July 28, 2008

Kenny Bloggerly's Internet Life, #17: Fan Mail



Events take a shocking turn as we approach the end of Kenny Bloggerly's first season.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Kenny Bloggerly's Internet Life, #16: Online Shopping

See more funny videos at Funny or Die


Did you know you can shop without going to a store? That's right! You can do it from the comfort of your seat, right after you vote Funny.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Kenny Bloggerly's Internet Life, #15: Inventing the Internet

See more funny videos at Funny or Die


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Dark Knight

So I'm late on the Kenny Bloggerly episode today, mainly because this morning I finally saw The Dark Knight and spent the rest of the day recovering from it. I had strenuously avoided reading any reviews or coverage of the movie -- each time I saw a headline announcing yet another glowing review, I dropped the offending publication like a hot potato. It was good -- that's all I needed to know. Beyond that, I wanted to go in as fresh as possible.

I do like reading reviews, actually, but if I know I'm going to see a movie regardless I try not to read them. I've seldom gone out of my way to avoid them to the extent I did with this movie, but it was worth it. Afterwards I fell into my post-movie ritual of reading several reviews to see how they matched up with my responses, and confirmed that reading them beforehand would have spoiled countless moments that made me jump in my seat with shock and delight.

So yeah, I loved it. I'll be making another trip to the theater to check out the IMAX version, if I can. I've read that IMAX tickets are selling out and going for up to $60 on eBay, which is insane.

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Kenny Bloggerly's Internet Life, #14: Social Networking

See more funny videos at Funny or Die


Still confused about that whole social networking thing the kids are doing these days? Let Kenny Bloggerly elucidate the phenomenon as only he can... then vote Funny!

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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Kenny Bloggerly's Internet Life, #13: Wine Expert

See more funny videos at Funny or Die


This epic episode is the first to clock in well past the two minute mark. But it's still good. Have a taste and see!

By the way, your Funny votes are still as valuable as ever.

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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Kenny Bloggerly's Internet Life, #11: Porn Star part III

See more funny videos at Funny or Die


You always assume that putting "Porn Star" in the title of your videos would automatically get you more views. I don't know what's more depressing -- that it really works or that it still doesn't work quite as well as you'd think.

Vote Funny!

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Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Monday, June 30, 2008

Kenny Bloggerly's Internet Life, #9: Porn Star

See more funny videos at Funny or Die


Kenny Bloggerly finally covers the topic that is synonymous with the internet. With "Funny" results? Only your vote can say for sure (yes).

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Another Effing Jimmy's Head Post

I'm sure you're all long since sick of me posting about Out of Jimmy's Head. But they've apparently gone and put the rest of the episodes on iTunes, so if you missed my episode, now you can watch it for just $1.99. Go and buy it right now! It's under Season 2, mistitled "Lunch Table" instead of "Lunch Tables."*

*Trivia fun fact: When the show was to be "Re-Animated: The Series," Kenny's episode was originally titled "Re-Location: A Story of Lunch Tables."

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Friday, June 27, 2008

Really?

I drive past this building all the time, and I always catch just enough of a glimpse to wonder if I saw it right. Now, finally, I have proof.



"I told you I live in a Crapi Apartment."
"Come on, this place isn't that -- Oh, I see what you did there."

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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Kenny Bloggerly's Internet Life, #8: Green Screen



An episode so thrilling, you won't feel guilty for voting Funny. Or maybe you will. I don't know. As long as you vote Funny, the rest is your business.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Get Smart - Review


I enjoyed Get Smart. Perhaps Matt, who thought it was terrible, did not have expectations set quite low enough?

(Some SPOILERS:)

It's funny, but not hilarious. For long stretches it's largely straight action, which I actually kind of liked. As a kid, Get Smart was equally enjoyable as a spy adventure, since I didn't realize just how absurd it was, so it was nice to have a halfway credible adventure to give the story weight on the big screen. When the movie is funny, it's mostly thanks to the cast. Steve Carell offers an endearing, likable performance that's always fun to watch, and the supporting cast offers their share of fun moments as well.

The movie includes some nice references for the hardcore fan, but it's probably best enjoyed by someone who vaguely remembers the show as something about a spy who bumbled a lot. The more you remember the nuances of Max's character, the relationship dynamics, and the show's specific tone of humor, the more the movie will feel off.

The thing about the show that most needed updating for a movie was its borscht-belt comic rhythms. It's nostalgic and comforting to hear the set-up-knock-down jokes in the old series, with clockwork beats so precise it almost becomes meta-comedy. But to most contemporary audiences that style would rightly feel unbearably corny and dated, as proven by 1995's Get Smart revival on Fox with Andy Dick.

The Get Smart movie does seek to update this but, doesn't replace it with much of anything, and fails to find a distinctive comic voice. The show settled into a groove where the jokes all felt like they were coming from the same sensibility. The movie grabs scattershot laughs wherever it can, and the styles of comedy sometimes clash.

Compared to the show, which has a higher verbal joke to slapstick joke ratio than you remember, the movie's sense of humor aims low. Sometimes it connects anyway, as when Max repeatedly pauses while urinating in order to eavesdrop on a conversation in the bathroom. The bit sounds terrible, but Carell's facial expressions sell it so brilliantly it's hard not to chuckle.

Even so, enough of the comedy works to make the movie generally enjoyable.

The "origin story" angle is unnecessary, but an understandable choice given the need to create a cinematic character arc. Apparently the promise to show "how Max became Max" is the pitch that got the writers the job. But Max doesn't need an origin story, particularly since this Max is a totally different character anyway, and becomes a different Max in the end. Particularly annoying is the detail that he used to be fat. Thin actors in fat suits and buses sweeping across the screen to suddenly hit someone have become the most abused comedy sight gags of the decade, and this movie has both. Fortunately the fat-suited flashbacks are mercifully short, and the payoff, in which Smart dances with a fat woman, is surprisingly sweet.

Carell's geeky, intelligent yet clumsy and inexperienced Max works well enough, but the changes are still frustrating. Carell is equally adept at playing overconfident buffoons like Don Adams' Max, so either approach would have still felt tailored to him. Still, it's not as different as it might seem. Despite the titular joke, the original Max was still a generally competent spy -- he could hold his own in a fight and, while 99 often helped, Max frequently was able to put the pieces together himself. He was more slow than stupid. He would spend much of the time a couple steps behind but eventually would figure things out in time to solve cases on his own. He was much more competent than Don Adam's other signature role, Inspector Gadget, who truly did stumble into success, or more often, simply took the credit for Penny's and Brain's work.

Get Smart the movie does not quite capture Get Smart, the show. It has the title, the character names, the same spy agencies, the hallway full of doors, the music, and the broad concept of a bumbling spy. It's not so much an adaptation of the show as a movie with a similar idea. As a Get Smart movie, it hits some of the right buttons but is ultimately a bit wanting. As a movie starring Steve Carell as a bumbling spy, taken on its own terms, it's pretty decent crowd-pleaser. Our audience even applauded at the end.

Still, that airplane bathroom scene still rankles me with its unexplained dumbness--why risk shooting your eyes out using a crossbow to cut the tie on your wrists when you have a knife in the same device?

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Friday, June 20, 2008

Get Smart

My mantra for Get Smart for many months now has been "high hopes, low expectations." The teaser trailer, with three excellent and understated gags, was promising, but the subsequent three trailers (which are so similar that you wonder why they bothered) dilute the success rate with some mediocre or out-of-place jokes that make you worry. The criticisms at the Get Smart fan site, including Warner Bros. total dick move to freeze out the original series creators in hopes of ducking royalty payments, and the resulting alterations to the Maxwell Smart character, are even more alarming, as are all the snippets of negative reviews.

Still, as a huge fan of the original series (as a kid, I made a series of videos with my sister called "Secret Spies" that was basically an attempt to recreate the show with ourselves as agents) and a fan of Steve Carell, passing it up is simply not an option. In some ways I feel I'm in a quandary. I don't want to reward the studio for trying to fuck over Mel Brooks and Buck Henry, and creating a weaker movie as a result... but I also don't want the movie to flop. Maybe if it's successful enough to merit a sequel they can correct some of the problems of this one. Or will they just make them worse, thinking they were successful with their changes? You can't win.

On the other hand, it's a Get Smart movie starring Steve Carell. Of course I'm going to see it. I'm hoping if I go in with an open mind (and the aforementioned low expectations), Carell will deliver something at least worth watching.

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Regrets and Apologies

Three and a half years ago, I wrote a post* on this blog that offered savage reviews of the video output of one Amir Blumenfeld. Amir was a student in the Squelch De-Cal class I taught with Sean Keane who had gone on to contribute to College Humor. Naturally, Amir and his associates eventually saw the post, and Amir was reportedly "surprised and slightly hurt." His friend Jakob Lodwick offered the following comment:

Kenny, please know that a movie that YOU find unfunny is much better than a blog entry that PRACTICALLY NOBODY will ever read.


For reasons I'll get to in a moment, I've been meaning to revisit this issue at some point. But someone beat me to it. Recently, I was mortified to discover that the issue had resurfaced in another blog that referenced my post and cited the above comment. This blogger deemed Jakob's response "Awesome."

I think "Awesome" is perhaps overstating it. Richly deserved? Absolutely. Admirably succinct? Also true. But the sentiment of Jakob's response is pretty standard when it comes to anyone whose work is attacked by arrogant bloggers. The person creating something that people actually see and enjoy always trumps the cranky blogger with an audience of few. Indeed, when I was a Squelch editor and blogs were something new and even more inconsequential, I once wrote a response nearly identical in sentiment to a blogger who dared impugn the latest issue of the Squelch. It's ironic, then, that a scant couple of years later, denied the bully pulpit of a print magazine, I myself turned to attacking others from the flimsy perch of an obscure corner of the blogosphere. I don't have a real good reason. I was mad with the power of a newly-minted blogger flexing his strength. I thought I was being fair and constructive (my post did, in fact, include mentions of a couple of videos I thought were sorta okay). Like many people, I also reveled in being as mean as possible to people I didn't have to look in the eye.

Basically I was being an asshole and I'm sorry for it now. It was cool of Jakob to come to his friend's defense, and even classier of Amir to ignore my attack completely. In fact, it is Amir's response, not Jakob's, that I would call "Awesome."

The saying goes that "Living well is the best revenge." And--not that I had anything to do with it--Amir has gone on from his slapdash early videos to create videos for College Humor that are not only wildly popular, but actually, genuinely good. His series of "prank war" videos with co-worker Streeter are ambitious and brilliant in conception (in an odd crossover event, watch for my own video partner Mike in the Human Giant prank video). Amir's current series, Jake and Amir, is in my opinion the finest web series on the internet. It's got a rich, very specific character dynamic, a fast pace that never wastes your time, and most importantly, hilarious and consistent comedy. Even more frustrating, they make it look easy. Once you watch a few episodes and learn its groove, it's addictive. It is, I think, the model of what a web sitcom should be.

Revenge doesn't get more "awesome" than doing work so good that it forces your detractors to admire you. Indeed, enjoying Jake and Amir on a regular basis only deepens my shame at attacking Amir's videos way back when. I haven't re-watched his old videos, and I don't expect I would enjoy them even now. There was likely a basic difference in Amir's personality and sensibility that is probably why he disliked the Squelch while he was at Berkeley. But I have to admit that there was more to his old videos than I allowed at the time. They were slapdash, yes, but what I read as smugness was a sense of joy that continues to add a spark to Amir's videos today, and what I saw as sloppiness was a freewheeling willingness to try anything that has served Amir well. What I didn't see was that there was good in those experimental videos, and they were leading to something better.

Back then, part of my venom may have been jealousy. I admitted in the original post that I was envious of the attention he was getting, but on an even more basic level, I think I envied the fact that he had the resources to make videos at all, which I did not. Nowadays, I'm just envious that my videos aren't as good.**

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*I'd link to my post, except that I've decided to delete it entirely. Sure, maybe you can find it through the magic of Google cache, but I feel no responsibility to preserve something myself that I now see as a source of embarrassment. The post itself is not only mean but cringingly unfunny.

**Still, I beat Amir to this premise by several months. Amir's version is eerily similar and possibly funnier, but at least I got there first, right?

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Kenny Bloggerly's Internet Life, Episode 5



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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Kenny Bloggerly's Internet Life, Episode 3



Again, if you can bring yourself to vote "Funny," it is much appreciated. You all did a great job stuffing the ballot box on the last two!

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Monday, June 09, 2008

Conan O'Brien's Dinner With Jordan



Catch it before it gets taken down.

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Sunday, June 08, 2008

Weezer: Red (Part II)


Where were we? Oh yes, "Dreamin'." Like "The Greatest Man That Ever Lived," it is another experiment with epic (over five minute) song length. It's a little reminiscent of '60s bands like the Beach Boys or The Lovin' Spoonful. While Cuomo's vocals keep the sound in the Weezer realm, it's also the first song on the album that has a slick, too-smooth, heavily produced style. It hits a natural endpoint halfway through, then gets increasingly produced even as the song structure gets more meandering and experimental.

The next three songs, "Thought I Knew," "Cold Dark World," and "Automatic," are especially baffling. Each has its strengths, but none sound like Weezer. Which makes sense, since these are the tracks on which the band members switched instruments. They are not written or sung by Cuomo, and all of them have a slick, un-Weezery production quality. It's surprising, although perhaps it shouldn't be, that the same band can sound completely different when you change who writes and plays and sings the songs. The problem is that while each of the three songs is not bad, they lack a distinctive sound to take the place of the missing Weezer sound. They also seem to abandon the themes that are so prevalent in the album's first half (except "Automatic," about familial love). Given time, I warmed up to them, but they still feel like okay filler on some other, less interesting band's album. I found myself wondering if I was only growing to like them the way that I would convince myself to like the awful songs by no-name bands back in my soundtrack-listening days.

Cuomo doesn't exactly have the most amazing singing voice, but it is a significant part of the Weezer signature. Thankfully, it returns for the last track, "The Angel and the One," a slow number that ends the album with dignity. I wasn't keen on it at first, but the last time I listened, it suddenly clicked and I found myself quite enjoying it.

The Deluxe version of the album offers four bonus tracks, or 40% more music. It's a pretty significant addition, potentially changing the experience of the album as a whole. But despite the weird turn in the middle, the first ten tracks feel like a complete album... or at least two cohesive EPs. The bonus tracks are clearly outside the flow. "Miss Sweeney" is the most old-school Weezer-y of the lot. It's charming and funny and more than a little similar in its chorus to "Suzanne." The rest of the bonus tracks return to the band's weird new slick sound. "Pig" is okay, "The Spider" is an insufferably terrible, maudlin track with the unbearably annoying central metaphor about a spider in a drain (the only song on the album I really, unequivocally hate), and King is pretty mediocre and forgettable. Sadly, the bonus tracks also tip the balance of the album toward the weird new sound. Switch in "Miss Sweeney" for, say, "Thought I Knew," and cap the album at ten tracks, and you'd have a far more solid effort in my opinion.

Like it or not, Weezer is experimenting, growing and changing. Whether the Red Album is good is debatable, but it is definitely not the sound of a band that is content to coast on what is comfortable. If anything, it is the sound of a band transforming. By the end of Red, Weezer sounds like a different band. I'm not sure that's good. But it is certainly interesting.

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Friday, June 06, 2008

Weezer: Better Red Than Dead?



Over at The Onion AV Club, the hipsters on the Red Album review thread have been going to town attacking Weezer -- post-Pinkerton in general, the Red Album in particular. (Yes, I am sure that is not the only place on the internet where this is happening.) I tend to be more forgiving of Weezer's late period output, probably because I am in truth a second generation Weezer fan. Someone my age really should have boarded the train back at the Blue Album station, but in high school I was too nerdy even for nerd rock. I was not cool enough to realize I could enrich my angst through contemporary music, and mostly just listened to oldies stations and movie soundtracks. Many was the time I sat in my car nodding with recognition to "another Saturday night and I ain't got nobody..." Okay, this is getting sad. The point is in high school, my Weezer exposure amounted to:

- Watching the "Buddy Holly" video on a friend's computer when he first got Windows 95. I remember liking the song and the video. I think I eventually sampled the rest of the album at Borders but was not won over enough to buy it.

- Seeing somebody holding a Pinkerton CD in class. I think they might have been saying something along the lines of how it wasn't as good as the first one.

I didn't really catch on to Weezer until college, when Napster let me get into it for free, and Squelch sing-alongs taught me the importance of "El Scorcho" among others. Around that time, the Green Album came out. Everyone said it wasn't as deep as Pinkerton, but Cuomo was quoted in interviews stating that it wasn't intended to be, and that was good enough for me. Since I was only getting into Pinkerton retroactively, the change didn't bother me at all. Green was a lot of fun, and I happened to be playing it a lot when I first began dating Stephanie, so it has a lot of significance to me personally.

I thought Maladroit was really good, too. I listened to it all summer when I was taking classes in LA, and it only got better with repeated listens.

Admittedly, Make Believe is the weakest offering in their catalogue. I haven't been compelled to revisit it since it came out and I don't have any particularly fond memories of it. "Beverly Hills" was okay at first but hasn't held up well, and I found myself getting embarrassed whenever I listened to it while driving around L.A., especially when I happened to pass through Beverly Hills. I gave Make Believe another listen yesterday, and with virtually every song, my thought was the same: "Oh, that's on this album?" The tracks all have a distinctively Weezer feel, but none stand out. Any of them would be fine as a filler track on a better album that offered at least a few compelling reasons to exist, but Make Believe is nothing but. Nothing is terrible, but nothing is all that good, either, leaving an album that is the definition of mediocre.

Even so, I'm coming at the Red Album from the point of view that Weezer has one weak album to overcome rather than three. So how do I feel about Red? it's complicated.

The album is weird. Ultimately it is maybe not entirely good. But unlike the hipsters who accuse Rivers Cuomo of becoming a soulless machine who refuses to open up in his music and is just making a trip back to the well when in need of a paycheck, I don't think Weezer can be faulted for a lack of ambition.

Red is unique, and characterized by many things: A tongue-in-cheek arrogance (seemingly representing Cuomo's response to his critics), themes of maturity, adult responsibility, kids, parenthood, reflection on one's life, musicianship itself, and finally, a spirit of experimentation. The album was recorded in three separate sessions under three different producers: Rick Rubin, Jackknife 1, and Weezer. Oddly, Rubin and Jackknife's tracks retain the distinctive Weezer feel, while the band's self-produced tracks don't feel like Weezer at all. This strange split makes Red feel like two separate albums -- by two separate bands.

The first half contains Rubin and Jackknife's tracks, and feels like a Weezer album. Not only that, it feels like an especially promising, even great Weezer album. It kicks off strong with "Troublemaker," which introduces the album's themes. Yes, it's about being a rock star, and emblematic of that inevitable point musicians seem to reach where their music ceases to be about common experience and becomes about itself. But it also touches on childhood, growing up, family, and all the other themes that the album returns to again and again. Yes, it feels like an arrogant fuck-you to critics, but if Weezer can be this much fun while settling scores, so be it.

Next, "The Greatest Man That Ever Lived" keeps the boastfulness going, while introducing experimental elements that are fun but don't detract from the band's signature sound. In the context of the album, "Pork and Beans" feels less generic and more like a part of a whole, and its consideration of aging -- the references to Rogaine, gaining weight, and losing one's cool -- feel more significant.

"Heart Songs" is sappy. It's almost embarrassingly simple, but it feels sincere and is hard to hate in spite of itself. "Everybody Get Dangerous" picks things up again with a badass, driving riff and lyrics about fucking shit up in the retarded ways that only bored teenagers can. But while it seems at first to be ironic -- only in these teenagers' minds was this stupid stuff "dangerous" and badass -- it turns out not to be. By the final verse, it's clear that we're looking back on this through the eyes of someone not just older and wiser, but someone with a distinctively parental point of view. The final question -- of how to react when one's kid wants to "get dangerous" is honestly the kind of thing you only take seriously when you actually have a kid yourself. Hearing the song through this lens of parental worry puts a bit of a damper on it, as parental worry tends to do, but if you can ignore that, it's still a solid song.

"Dreamin'" is where things start to turn. But I've gone on long enough for now, so more on that later.

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